ATLANTA -- Billy Knight had seen enough. The Atlanta Hawks' GM stood up from his seat at the Georgia Dome and made his way out with more than eight minutes remaining in Florida's dismantling of UCLA Saturday night. Deja vu all over again. The Gators ate up the Bruins for the second consecutive year, and the Hawks GM is once again trolling for lottery talent.
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
Joe Johnson might be the only reason to get excited about the Hawks.
The thought of losing out on such talent would normally have fans calling for Knight's job. But he's lucky. Most folks here haven't cared about the Hawks in years. In the course of five days of Final Four festivities, and a home game against the Chicago Bulls on Sunday, Dominique Wilkins throwbacks were the only Hawks jerseys I could find.
Ironic, isn't it? For the better part of a decade the NBA piggybacked off hip-hop, and yet Atlanta -- which has owned the hip-hop charts during that time span -- hasn't had a team worth cheering for since Ludacris was spinning hits on the radio instead of making them.
The situation is particularly disappointing because, having lived here, I know the people of this city love basketball. From the thousands of fans who will show up for a high school game to the pickup action at the 24-hour spot Run N' Shoot, there's plenty of evidence to suggest that if the Hawks could even sniff .500, they'd get mad love. But after watching the crowd file out during the closing minutes of the Hawks' 47th loss of the season on Sunday, it's pretty clear nothing's going to change until a change is made.
What that change is, I really don't know. Coach Mike Woodson has been unable to design an offense that takes advantage of his team's strengths -- outside of just giving the ball to Johnson. But a big part of Woodson's problem is that Knight keeps drafting forwards who can't shoot and signing backup point guards to be starters. And a big part of Knight's problem is that during his tenure the team was first owned by a faceless corporation that wanted to keep everything on the cheap (Time Warner) and the current ownership group started infighting soon after it was introduced to the public.
It's a disaster so demoralizing that during a first-half timeout in Sunday's game, most of the Hawks' players preferred to watch the fat, hairy and shirtless all-male dance team performing at center court rather than listen to Woodson draw up another play in a game that had no meaning to them.
Atlanta has long been a playground for the black elite, and Hawks games have the potential to be nearly as glitzy as those of the Lakers. Yet the afternoon before a Jamie Foxx concert and the day before Oden versus Noah, the biggest celeb the Hawks could put on the video screen was UNC's Roy Williams (no offense, Coach).
The really crazy thing is, despite potentially losing their own lottery pick to the Suns this year, the Hawks could still be in the lottery if the struggling Indiana Pacers miss the playoffs. That's because in the sign-and-trade deal for Al Harrington, the Hawks got Indiana's 2007 first-round pick. And as fate would have it, the Hawks' last home game of the season is against those Pacers, so theoretically they could keep the Pacers out -- a rare chance to have a late-season game matter to Atlanta.
Too bad Woodson has lost the players, Knight has lost his way, the owners have lost their minds and the fans were lost long before any of that. If the biggest game of the season happens but no one cares, is it still big?
You want a franchise Vegas? This might be it. You could probably snatch the Hawks away without as much as a whimper. Which is how this team is ending the season. Again.
LZ Granderson is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine and host of the ESPN360 talk show "Game Night." LZ can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.